Personal Digital Preservation: Part 2 Theory into Practice

I tried to give myself the best chance of success or the best chance to get a quick sense of accomplishment and chose a smaller collection of digital photographs to begin my project. According to the Library of Congress’s information on personal archiving, there are four suggested steps to take when working to preserve your digital photos.

1.) Identify where you have digital photos

2.) Decide which photos are most important

3.) Organize your selected photos

4.) Make copies and store them in different places

Identify where you have digital photos

This part was quite easy since I am targeting a certain folder of photos that have already been moved off of my camera’s SD card and saved onto my laptop. However, once I have worked through my backlog of photos I will need to once again look on my camera for photos that still only exist on my SD card as well as my cellphone that has probably hundreds of photos on its internal memory that I have not bothers to transfer to my laptop.

Decide which photos are the most important 

Time to get rid of all those duplicate, fuzzy, and um pointless photos. Going through this portion of the process reminded me of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. He rightly states that “since our cameras apply names like ‘DSC00165.jpg’ to our photos it’s easier to keep bad photos than to throw them out”. When I first read that passage I could only chuckle and nod. I am guilty of keeping more photos than I should just because comparing and then committing to deleting one of the photos is a heavy responsibility.

However, I did delete many photos from my vacation photos. I got rid of all those duplicates (with and without flash, with different white balances set, just a bit more focused or centered). I also deleted many pointless photos (if I can’t remember why I took the photo less than a year later then I really do not need to commit to keeping it forever).

Organize your selected photos

The meat of the project! As long as you do not need to pick out the best photo of a flower out of 20 possible choices, this step will most likely be the most time consuming. This step might also become somewhat repetitive. I would suggest listening to music, watching a movie, or watching a television show while you add metadata to your photos.

Time to get rid of those horrible camera created names and actually give your photos descriptive names. Now this can be accomplished in a variety of fashions depending on your personal information management style and how you personally like to name files. You can incorporate location, date, subject, or just describe what is in the photo. I went the last route since my photos will remain in a file that identifies the photos within as vacation photos from Cannon Beach, OR. My file names might not be scientific or up to library or archive standards, but I will know what the photo is and so would most anyone else.

Next it is time to add your metadata! I did not use any fancy programs. I opened my folder of photos and then went photo by photo and right clicked then selected the properties menu. Under the details tab, I could add title, subject, keywords, and comments. For my more visual learners, here is a screen shot of the metadata I added for one photo:

Properties Menu for photo

I had keywords for the place, significant objects or people in the photo, and more generic terms like “beach”. When it comes to keywords you can use as many or as few as you like. I always try to strive for a middle ground and only add keywords for the important aspects of the photo (for example if there is a food stand in the background of a photo, but obviously you and your friends are standing around a statue of some historic persona I would not add “food truck” as a keyword). In the comment section I added a more narrative  description of the photo sometimes placing the photo in context of a sequence of events that the title, subject, and keywords won’t convey otherwise.

Make copies and store them in different places

After completing all of that metadata, first give yourself a pat on the back then get all those pictures saved on different types of media pronto! What this means is to save your photos on different types of storage devices such as SD cards, flash drives, CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, in the cloud, or on a social media site such as Facebook, Flickr, or Instagram. If your photos are new you can incorporate your metadata creation into your “sharing” habits by processing your photos during the same chunk of time you would have devoted to uploading to these sites. I know my comment section reflects my captions from Facebook.

The Library of Congress also suggests keeping your copies in different locations. Maybe store a flash drive at a relative’s house or in a safety deposit box or a fire proof safe. LOC also goes as far as suggesting you keep a physical manifest of your photos with other important documents (this may help in remembering which photos are saved in what formats and where physically you have them).

Final Thoughts

Also remember every few years you need to check on your photos! You need to make sure you can still access them and that your storage devices are still working. You may also need to migrate your photos to new media. CDs as a storage media might not be around for much longer so photos saved on this media might need to be transferred to it a new media. Also make sure that your photos are saved in an open format (.jpg or .tiff). Also make sure your metadata shows up on other computers (plug your flashdrive with the folder of photos into someone else’s computer and see what shows up). In the future you may need to learn how to change the format of your photos to keep them current with file format changes.

I know this all seems like a big investment of time and energy (and in many cases money), but it will be well worth it some day when you can share these photos instead of bemoaning the hard drive crash of 2015.



Filed under Digital Archives, Digital Perservation, Project

3 responses to “Personal Digital Preservation: Part 2 Theory into Practice

  1. Great post, Sara. You’ve inspired me! While I do keep all my digital stuff in multiple locations for fear of losing it, it’s not very organized (besides traditional, intuitive folders), and there’s certainly little (if any) metadata thereto attached. This makes me want to take another look and get things in order!

  2. There’s one thing in favor of the “horrible camera created names”: They document the sequence in which pictures were taken. Though I haven’t been doing it myself, keeping the sequence number as part of the file name could make sense.

    • I had not considered that before. It might be worth it to add the camera created names to the metadata in the comment section if keeping it in the file name is not agreeable to one. However, I know many casual photo takers would probably not mind their photos not being in exact sequence order.

      I know physical photos at my house growing up would never stay in the correct sequence order after a stack of photos had been passed around for viewing. My parents did not really mind as long as the photos were is some semblance of chronological order. Then usually the photos were put in a box or drawer where they could get mixed up further. So I’m not sold that keeping photos in their original sequence would be high on everyone’s priority list (though I’m sure archivists who are maintaining their own personal files will care!).

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